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November 22, 2013

Self-described racist concerned that slave narrative written by actual slave is too hard on the institution of slavery

Or, "Man Who Hasn't Seen Film Has Stupid Racist Opinions About It." Columnist Hasn't Seen '12 Years A Slave,' But He's Sure It's Too Hard On Slavery | ThinkProgress
Instead, his argument is that 12 Years A Slave, which is based on Northup’s first-person account of his abduction and sale into slavery, after he’d grown up free, goes too hard on slavery as an institution, and on the people who owned their fellow human beings. This isn’t actually an idea that deserves to be taken seriously. But examining Derbyshire’s reasoning does provide some insight into the cruelty and delusions of his worldview, and his unwillingness to engage with the ways in which trade in human life and work degraded not just people who were held in bondage, but the people who held them there. And it’s a reminder of just how factually shoddy you can be in your film analysis and still get your writing on culture published. One of Derbyshire’s complaints is that he’s sure 12 Years A Slave doesn’t take into account the fact that some slaves spoke affectionately of their masters into account. He quotes Harriet Walker, who participated in the Slave Narratives program, as evidence that some slaves did, in fact, speak this way. Walker recalls: “Mars George fed an’ clo’esed well an’ was kin’ to his slaves, but once in a while one would git onruly an’ have to be punished. De worse I ever seen one whupped was a slave man dat had slipped off an’ hid out in de woods to git out of wuk. Dey chased him wid blood hounds, an’ when dey did fin’ him dey tied him to a tree, stroppin’ him ’round an’ ’round. Dey sho’ did gib him a lashin’.” Derbyshire might have a point that 12 Years A Slave didn’t explore the idea that some slaves were loyal to their masters, or that some slaves saw the punishments meted out by their masters and their masters’ employees as justified, except that the movie does both of those things. While in the first stage of his captivity, Solomon meets another man named Clemens (Chris Chalk), who was stolen and resold into slavery, though unlike Solomon, who was previously free, Clemens was stolen from another master. When the man shows up to claim him, Clemens rushes, weeping, into his arms. Laster in the film, Solomon meets Mistress Shaw (Alfre Woodard), a slave who has settled into an established position as her master’s mistress. In portraying both Clemens’ open relief and Shaw’s compromise, one salved by the belief that her owner will be tortured by hellfire, 12 Years A Slave actually has more nuance about the kinds of affections slaves might have felt for their masters than Derbyshire’s column does.